The right to the wind in your hair is the evocative catchline of the new Irish social enterprise, Cycling Without Age. Inspired by a similar initiative in Denmark, Dublin-based business mentor Clara Clark first brought a trishaw to Ireland in March 2017 to test whether it would work here.
“It’s about bringing people who can’t cycle themselves out for slow spins on a bike so that they can share stories, sing songs and look at things around them,” she says.
The Danish founder of Cycling Without Age, Ole Kassow, started off by offering free trishaw rides to residents of his local nursing home in Copenhagen. In a Tedx talk about the initiative in Denmark, Kassow says that he has got amazing feedback. “A simple bike ride can have a profound impact on the quality of life of both the volunteers and those on the trishaws. It enhances trust in the local community and it lifts the spirits of dementia patients in care homes,” says Kassow.
Once Clark began to demonstrate her trishaw to nursing homes and local authorities in Ireland, she found there was huge interest in the initiative.
“It just took off immediately. People started phoning me wondering how they could get one. Nursing homes from all over Ireland were interested. Companies wanted to sponsor them and people were keen to be trained as pilots,” says Clark.
Cycling Without Age Ireland is a registered charity that is run on a not-for-profit basis. “Nobody pays and nobody gets paid,” says Clark. All trishaws, which cost up to €12,000 each, are purchased by local authorities and/or sponsored by companies.
The first community-based trishaws were introduced into Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in July 2021. Funded by the local authority, the booking scheme is managed by another social enterprise, The Bike Hub, in Dún Laoghaire. In the past 18 months, the community-based trishaw scheme has expanded to Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council and members of the public can book free trips on trishaws in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin city and Fingal County Council online at thebikehub.ie.
Meanwhile, other local authorities throughout Ireland (including Westmeath, Wexford and Tipperary) and many private nursing homes have acquired their own trishaws. (See the full list of trishaws throughout Ireland at cyclingwithoutage.ie).
St Joseph’s dementia centre in Shankill, Co Dublin, is one such nursing home that has two trishaws. These are regularly used from March to October to bring residents of the nursing home and family members to the nearby Shanganagh Park.
Roy Brown from Cabinteely, Co Dublin, has been out on one of the trishaws three times with his wife, Anne, who has been living in St Joseph’s for the past four years. “We go out towards Bray and around the park and back again. It’s a very pleasant experience and a change from routine. Anne has her good days and her bad days, but on her good days she enjoys seeing the children and the dogs in the park,” he says.
Doreen Messitt from Bray, Co Wicklow, has also been out on the trishaw with her husband, Gerry, another resident at St Joseph’s. “It’s an excellent way for people who can’t walk to get out in the fresh air,” she says. Gerry was a bus driver for 28 years and when out on the trishaw the couple often meet people who greet them, remembering Gerry from his days working with Dublin Bus.
Nicola Yau, the volunteer and community co-ordinator at St Joseph’s, says that going out on the trishaws has a huge impact and gives residents a “glint in their eye and a pep in their step”.
“It’s exhilarating being out in the fresh air, looking around and connecting with people,” says Yau. The trishaw users have also got to know regular dog walkers in the park. “It’s a great way to connect with the local community. We know many of the dogs by name and some of the small ones come and sit on their laps on the trishaw. We also enjoy the musical instruments in the park and when we stop to have a go we ask the children there to give us a song.”
Activities co-ordinator Catherine Mullen says the conversations change when people are out on the trishaws. “We have people with all stages of dementia here and we have one man who loved his motorbike. He has to be hoisted into the trishaw in his leather jacket and helmet. When we take him out, we go a little faster down the hill and he feels like he is back on his motorbike again.”
Marie Keegan is a trained pilot who volunteers to take people out in St Catherine’s Park in Lucan on one of three trishaws owned by Fingal County Council. She also brings her 95-year-old mother Evelyn out on the trishaw managed by The Bike Hub in Dún Laoghaire. “I love the trip. We go the full length of the pier and up to Sandycove. I was a cyclist when I was younger and my husband and I had a tandem. I can hardly walk now but I love being out and seeing the swimmers at the Forty Foot,” says Evelyn.
Teressa McEvoy and Peter O’Brien are volunteer pilots at The Bike Hub in Dún Laoghaire. “It’s a fantastic experience. It takes a little while to build up your confidence as a pilot but the bikes are electric so it’s not hard to do. People are so grateful to us,” says McEvoy.
O’Brien, who retired during Covid, really enjoys chatting to people he brings out. “I’ve met up with the heritage officer at Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and we are planning to incorporate information on local history for those who are interested. And my next challenge is to explain the sights and the sounds to people with impaired vision who come out on the trishaws,” he says. Guide dogs are the only animals that are allowed to accompany their owners on the trishaws.
Meanwhile, Clark says her dream is for every town in Ireland to have a trishaw. “People who can’t walk or cycle themselves should be able to get out and have fun and freedom. I also think that older people and people with disabilities need to be seen in their communities,” she says.